Providers anticipate Western Health arrival

[caption id="attachment_61725" align="alignright" width="301"] (clockwise from top left) Gary Maisel, Evan Rayner, Todd Salnas, Walt Mickens[/caption]

Now that Western Health Advantage formally announced its expansion into the North Bay, existing care providers said the arrival of a new health plan is an important step in providing choices for employers and consumers and will help those involved move toward a more integrated model of care.Health Care TrendsSept. 24, 2012Providers anticipate Western Health arrivalSutter Health pursues launch of own HMOHealth care column

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It also caps off years of planning among the region's hospitals and independent physicians, who collectively sought collaborations amid an increasingly competitive, consolidating health care landscape spurred by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The expansion for Western Health Advantage, which now will include Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, is poised to receive state approval soon. The HMO intends to begin enrolling customers this year and offer the plan in January 2013. It could be well-positioned to capture the business of a good deal of the North Bay's smaller employers, according to Gary Maisel, chief executive officer. And that, in turn, could help North Bay providers attract their share of patients with employer-sponsored health plans.

"The small-group market has kind of been our wheelhouse for a long time," Mr. Maisel said.

With the smaller employer groups and an eye on the individual market, Mr. Maisel said Western Health Advantage is seeking to secure a firm spot in the forthcoming California Health Benefits Exchange.

"Our intention is to have all of the counties where we're licensed in the exchange," Mr. Maisel said.

Initially, the exchange will define small employers as those with 50 employees or fewer, but that will eventually expand to employers with 100 or fewer employees. That's a large portion of the employers in Sonoma and Napa counties, Mr. Maisel said.

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